(CBS) — Wendell Phillips Academy’s IHSA Class 4A semi-final game against Coal City on Saturday is part of an action-packed tripleheader at Gately Stadium.
The Wildcats have a chance to get downstate and make Chicago Public League football history. As CBS 2’s Megan Mawicke reports, these young men are already winning in the game of life.
The dreaded walk to their practice field helps make the Phillips football team who they are.
“It’s 18 degrees. They are walking three-quartersof a mile to practice. And, then after practice, they walk back, get on public transportation. That alone is a testament to their character,” says head coach Troy McAllister.
“At the end of the day, it’s just mental toughness. Our coaches always preach mental toughness and physical toughness. If we win a state championship we’re going to look back, it’s not going to really affect us,” says senior safety Jamal Brown.
That dedication and toughness are big reasons why the Wildcats are 11-1 and in the state semi-finals for the first time ever. No Chicago Public League school has ever won a state football title.
“It would mean everything. Our young men know what’s at stake. They understand the historical impact,” McAllister adds.
Just three years ago, Phillips was declared failing, so it became a turnaround school. Every employee was replaced. The school currently has 147 homeless students; seven are on the football team. But, the school is thriving now because of caring coaches and teachers.
“I don’t have a father and Coach Larson and Coach Troy are all like father figures for me,” says Brown.
“I have got a bond with Coach Joe because I don’t have a father figure like that. It’s opened up doors and being around people who want the same thing that you want–success and the bond and love we’ve got for each other,” says Dewayne Collins, senior Quarterback.
Playing football has also gotten these young men off the tough streets. It’s allowing them to continue their education. Jamal and Dewayne have earned football scholarships to Illinois State, and all 12 seniors on this team are going to college.
“Football really keeps you out of trouble,” Brown says. “Being known for something positive is far more better than being known for something bad.”
Regardless of how the game turns out on the scoreboard Saturday, these young men are learning valuable life lessons.